Breaking News
February 23, 2019 - Surprise rheumatoid arthritis discovery points to new treatment for joint inflammation
February 23, 2019 - A just-right fix for a tiny heart
February 23, 2019 - Owlstone Medical and Shanghai Renji Hospital collaborate to initiate breath biopsy lung cancer trial
February 23, 2019 - AMSBIO’s comprehensive portfolio of knock-out cell lines and lysates
February 23, 2019 - New app reliably determines physicians’ skills in forming accurate, efficient diagnoses
February 23, 2019 - Peripheral nerve injury can trigger the onset and spread of ALS, shows study
February 23, 2019 - Researchers uncover mechanisms that prevent tooth replacement in mice
February 23, 2019 - Once-a-day capsule offers new way to reduce symptoms of chronic breathlessness
February 23, 2019 - FDA Adds Boxed Warning for Increased Risk of Death with Gout Medicine Uloric (febuxostat)
February 23, 2019 - Phone-based intervention aids rheumatoid arthritis care
February 23, 2019 - Opioid epidemic makes eastern inroads and targets African-Americans
February 23, 2019 - New identified biomarker predicts patients who might benefit from HER2-targeted agents
February 23, 2019 - Study offers new insights into mechanisms of changes in erythrocytes under stress
February 23, 2019 - Antipsychotic polypharmacy may be beneficial for schizophrenia patients
February 23, 2019 - Researchers investigate how marijuana and tobacco co-use affects quit attempts by smokers
February 23, 2019 - Patients with diabetes mellitus have high risk of stable ischemic heart disease
February 23, 2019 - Transparency on healthcare prices played key role in Arizona health system’s turnaround
February 23, 2019 - A comprehensive, multinational review of peppers around the world
February 23, 2019 - Study finds modest decrease in burnout among physicians
February 23, 2019 - A simple change can drastically reduce unnecessary tests for urinary tract infections
February 23, 2019 - Deep Learning-Enhanced Device Detects Diabetic Retinopathy
February 23, 2019 - Researchers discover new binding partner for amyloid precursor protein
February 23, 2019 - Modest decrease seen in burnout among physicians, researchers say | News Center
February 23, 2019 - Transplanting bone marrow of young mice into old mice prevents cognitive decline
February 23, 2019 - Mogrify to accelerate novel IP and cell therapies using $3.7m USD funding
February 23, 2019 - Johns Hopkins study describes cells that may help speed bone repair
February 23, 2019 - Scientists demonstrate influence of food odors on proteostasis
February 23, 2019 - Researchers unlock the secret behind reproduction of fish called ‘Mary’
February 23, 2019 - Acupuncture Could Help Ease Menopausal Symptoms
February 23, 2019 - Researchers use AI to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s
February 23, 2019 - On recovery, vulnerability and ritual: An exhibit in white | News Center
February 23, 2019 - Memory Stored in Unexpected Region of the Brain
February 23, 2019 - Several health experts worldwide gather at EUDONORGAN event
February 23, 2019 - Discovery of potent compound in native California shrub may lead to treatment for Alzheimer’s
February 22, 2019 - Researchers create new map of the brain’s own immune system
February 22, 2019 - ICHE’s reviews on surgical infections, unnecessary urine tests, and nurses’ role in antibiotic stewardship
February 22, 2019 - UK Research and Innovation invests £200 million to create new generation of AI leaders
February 22, 2019 - Takeda collaboration to boost fight against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases
February 22, 2019 - Heavy drinking may change DNA, leading to increased craving for alcohol
February 22, 2019 - U.S. opioid deaths jump fourfold in 20 years; epidemic shifts to Eastern states | News Center
February 22, 2019 - 5 Questions with William Turner on Diversity in Medicine
February 22, 2019 - HHS Finalizes Rule Seeking To Expel Planned Parenthood From Family Planning Program
February 22, 2019 - Researchers uncover biochemical pathway that may help identify drugs to treat Alzheimer’s
February 22, 2019 - Biologist uses new grant to find ways to eliminate schistosomiasis
February 22, 2019 - Bag-mask ventilation to help patients breathe during intubation prevents complications
February 22, 2019 - AbbVie Announces New Drug Application Accepted for Priority Review by FDA for Upadacitinib for Treatment of Moderate to Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis
February 22, 2019 - Nature versus nurture and addiction
February 22, 2019 - New website connects researchers with data experts, resources | News Center
February 22, 2019 - Today’s Concerns About Drug Prices Echo The Past
February 22, 2019 - CT and Doppler equipment have low accuracy in detecting cerebral vasospasm and ischemia
February 22, 2019 - Study finds out similarity in function between healthy retina cell and tumor cell
February 22, 2019 - CWRU awarded NIH grant to identify effective treatments for intimate partner violence
February 22, 2019 - Oncotype DX Not Cost-Effective for Low-Risk Breast Cancer
February 22, 2019 - Scientists discover new type of immune cells that are essential for forming heart valves
February 22, 2019 - Talk About Déjà Vu: Senators Set To Re-Enact Drug Price Hearing Of 60 Years Ago
February 22, 2019 - Genetic defect linked to pediatric liver disease identified
February 22, 2019 - New cellular atlas could provide a deeper insight into blinding diseases
February 22, 2019 - Growing number of cancer survivors, fewer providers point to challenge in meeting care needs
February 22, 2019 - Innovative compound offers a new therapeutic approach to treat multiple sclerosis
February 22, 2019 - $1.5 million grant to develop opioid treatment program for jail detainees
February 22, 2019 - FDA’s new proposed rule would update regulatory requirements for sunscreen products in the U.S
February 22, 2019 - Most Hip, Knee Replacements Last Decades, Study Finds
February 22, 2019 - Wellness problems prevalent among ob-gyn residents
February 22, 2019 - In the Spotlight: “The world is your oyster in geriatrics”
February 22, 2019 - Successful testing of multi-organ “human-on-a-chip” could replace animals as test subjects
February 22, 2019 - Analysis of cervical precancer shows decline in two strains of HPV
February 22, 2019 - Sugary stent eases suturing of blood vessels
February 22, 2019 - From surgery to psychiatry: A medical student reevaluates his motivations
February 22, 2019 - Is New App From Feds Your Answer To Navigating Medicare Coverage? Yes And No
February 22, 2019 - New pacemakers powered by heartbeats could reduce need for surgery
February 22, 2019 - The United States records highest drug overdose death rates
February 22, 2019 - Heart attacks more likely to be fatal in women and rates are rising
February 22, 2019 - Morning walks could be better than drugs at lowering blood pressure
February 22, 2019 - Phase 1 data reinforce safety profile of new drug for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy
February 22, 2019 - Vitamin D supplementation less effective in the presence of obesity, shows study
February 22, 2019 - Novostia raises CHF 6.5 million to advance its aortic, mitral heart valve to clinical trials
February 22, 2019 - CPRIT awards nearly $20 million to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
February 22, 2019 - Sarepta Announces FDA Acceptance of Golodirsen (SRP-4053) New Drug Application for Patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Amenable to Skipping Exon 53
February 22, 2019 - An institutional effort to reduce the amount of opioids prescribed following lumbar surgery
February 22, 2019 - Family-history-based models perform better than non-family-history based models
Erratic nursing home staffing revealed through new records

Erratic nursing home staffing revealed through new records

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print

Most nursing homes had fewer nurses and caretaking staff than they had reported to the government, according to new federal data, bolstering the long-held suspicions of many families that staffing levels were often inadequate.

The records for the first time reveal frequent and significant fluctuations in day-to-day staffing, with particularly large shortfalls on weekends. On the worst-staffed days at an average facility, the new data show, on-duty personnel cared for nearly twice as many residents as they did when the staffing roster was fullest.

The data, analyzed by Kaiser Health News, come from daily payroll records Medicare only recently began gathering and publishing from more than 14,000 nursing homes, as required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Medicare previously had been rating each facility’s staffing levels based on the homes’ own unverified reports, making it possible to game the system.

The payroll records provide the strongest evidence that, over the past decade, the government’s five-star rating system for nursing homes often exaggerated staffing levels and rarely identified the periods of thin staffing that were common. Medicare is now relying on the new data to evaluate staffing, but the revamped star ratings still mask the erratic levels of people working from day to day.

At the Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing here, Jay Vandemark, 47, who had a stroke last year, said he often roams the halls looking for an aide not already swamped with work when he needs help putting on his shirt.

Especially on weekends, he said, “it’s almost like a ghost town.”

Nearly 1.4 million people are cared for in skilled nursing facilities in the United States. When nursing homes are short-staffed, nurses and aides scramble to deliver meals, ferry bedbound residents to the bathroom and answer calls for pain medication. Essential medical tasks such as repositioning a patient to avert bedsores can be overlooked when workers are overburdened, sometimes leading to avoidable hospitalizations.

“Volatility means there are gaps in care,” said David Stevenson, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s not like the day-to-day life of nursing home residents and their needs vary substantially on a weekend and a weekday. They need to get dressed, to bathe and to eat every single day.”

Dr. David Gifford, a senior vice president at the American Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, disagreed, saying there are legitimate reasons staffing varies. On weekends, for instance, there are fewer activities for residents and more family members around, he said.

“While staffing is important, what really matters is what the overall outcomes are,” he said.

While Medicare does not set a minimum resident-to-staff ratio, it does require the presence of a registered nurse for eight hours a day and a licensed nurse at all times.

The payroll records show that even facilities that Medicare rated positively for staffing levels on its Nursing Home Compare website, including Beechtree, were short nurses and aides on some days. On its best-staffed days, Beechtree had one aide for every eight residents, while on its lowest-staffed days the ratio was 1-to-18. Nursing levels also varied.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency that oversees nursing home inspections, said in a statement that it “is concerned and taking steps to address fluctuations in staffing levels” that have emerged from the new data. This month, it said it would lower ratings for nursing homes that had gone seven or more days without a registered nurse.

Beechtree’s payroll records showed similar staffing levels to those it had reported before. David Camerota, chief operating officer of Upstate Services Group, the for-profit chain that owns Beechtree, said in a statement that the facility has enough nurses and aides to properly care for its 120 residents. But, he said, like other nursing homes, Beechtree is in “a constant battle” to recruit and retain employees even as it has increased pay to be more competitive.

Camerota wrote that weekend staffing is a special challenge as employees are guaranteed every other weekend off. “This impacts our ability to have as many staff as we would really like to have,” he wrote.

New Rating Method Is Still Flawed

In April, the government started using daily payroll reports to calculate average staffing ratings, replacing the old method, which relied on homes to report staffing for the two weeks before an inspection. The homes sometimes anticipated when an inspection would happen and could staff up before it.

The new records show that on at least one day during the last three months of 2017 — the most recent period for which data were available — a quarter of facilities reported no registered nurses at work.

Medicare discouraged comparison of staffing under the two methods and said no one should expect them to “exactly match.” The agency said the methods measure different time periods and have different criteria for how to record hours that nurses worked. The nursing home industry also objected, with Gifford saying it was like comparing Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures.

But several prominent researchers said the contrast was not only fair but also warranted, since Medicare is using the new data for the same purpose as the old: to rate nursing homes on its website. “It’s a worthwhile comparison,” said David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Of the more than 14,000 nursing homes submitting payroll records, 7 in 10 had lower staffing using the new method, with a 12 percent average decrease, the data show. And as numerous studies have found, homes with lower staffing tended to have more health code violations — another crucial measure of quality.

Even with more reliable data, Medicare’s five-star rating system still has shortcomings. Medicare still assigns stars by comparing a home to other facilities, essentially grading on a curve. As a result, many homes have kept their rating even though their payroll records showed lower staffing than before. Also, Medicare did not rate more than 1,000 facilities, either because of data anomalies or because they were too new to have a staffing history.

There is no consensus on optimal staffing levels. Medicare has rebuffed requests to set specific minimums, declaring in 2016 that it preferred that facilities “make thoughtful, informed staffing plans” based on the needs of residents.

Still, since 2014, health inspectors have cited 1 in 8 nursing homes for having too few nurses, federal records show.

With nurse assistants earning an average of $13.23 an hour in 2017, nursing homes compete for workers not only with better-paying employers like hospitals, but also with retailers. Understaffing leads predictably to higher turnover.

“They get burned out and they quit,” said Adam Chandler, whose mother lived at Beechtree until her death earlier this year. “It’s been constant turmoil, and it never ends.”

Medicare’s payroll records for the nursing homes showed that there were, on average, 11 percent fewer nurses providing direct care on weekends and 8 percent fewer aides. Staffing levels fluctuated substantially during the week as well, when an aide at a typical home might have to care for as few as nine residents or as many as 14.

A Family Council Forms

Beechtree actually gets its best Medicare rating in the category of staffing, with four stars. (Its inspection citations and the frequency of declines in residents’ health dragged its overall star rating down to two of five.)

To Stan Hugo, a retired math teacher whose wife, Donna, 80, lives at Beechtree, staffing levels have long seemed inadequate. In 2017, he and a handful of other residents and family members became so dissatisfied that they formed a council to scrutinize the home’s operation. Medicare requires nursing home administrators to listen to such councils’ grievances and recommendations.

Neglect Unchecked

Sandy Ferreira, who makes health care decisions for Effie Hamilton, a blind resident, said Hamilton broke her arm falling out of bed and has been hospitalized for dehydration and septic shock.

“Almost every problem we’ve had on the floor is one that could have been alleviated with enough and well-trained staff,” Ferreira said.

Beechtree declined to discuss individual residents but said it had investigated these complaints and did not find inadequate staffing on those days. Camerota also said that Medicare does not count assistants it hires to handle the simplest duties like making beds.

In recent months, Camerota said, Beechtree “has made major strides in listening to and addressing concerns related to staffing at the facility.”

Hugo agreed that Beechtree has increased daytime staffing during the week under the prodding of his council. On nights and weekends, he said, it still remained too low.

His wife has Alzheimer’s, uses a wheelchair and no longer talks. She enjoys music, and Hugo placed earphones on her head so she could listen to her favorite singers as he spoon-fed her lunch in the dining room on a recent Sunday.

As he does each day he visits, he counted each nursing assistant he saw tending residents, took a photograph of the official staffing log in the lobby and compared it to what he had observed. While he fed his wife, he noted two aides for the 40 residents on the floor — half what Medicare says is average at Beechtree.

“Weekends are terrible,” he said. While he’s regularly there overseeing his wife’s care, he wondered: “What about all these other residents? They don’t have people who come in.”

KHN’s coverage of these topics is supported by John A. Hartford Foundation and The SCAN Foundation

Jordan Rau: [email protected], @JordanRau

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles